Shoulder to shoulder, Clover's Alex Flores and Spartanburg's Bret Freed raced to the finish line at the Region 3-AAAA cross country meet on Wednesday at Northwestern High School.
Their legs and arms were pumping. They were so close that sneaking a look at the other out of the corner of an eye had no effect on either.
The crowd ran to the ropes that separated them from the running area. They cheered and clapped. And when the two competitors crossed the line, the winner was not obvious.
It was Flores, who helped lead the Blue Eagles to their first-ever Class AAAA region title in the sport, by sixteen-hundredths of a second.
Afterward, he gathered his family around him and smiled about the No. 1 that had been left on the back of his head during a recent shaving session.
"We were nose to nose," Flores said. "I knew he was the runner I had to beat to win, and I came to win today.
"He (Freed) caught me at the end and passed me. But heading into the straightaway I took the lead back and it was a race to the finish. It's good, real good. Anytime you can win a title and help your team win, it's always good."
The Clover crowd let out another big cheer when it was announced that the Blue Eagles team had won. Clover beat out Northwestern, 49-41. Spartanburg was third with 59 points, Rock Hill fourth with 68, Gaffney fifth with 139 and Lancaster was sixth with 189.
"This is good for our kids, our program and our school," Clover coach Nash Lyle said. "A lot of the credit goes to Chris Green, who trains our runners. He's brought our kids a long way.
"It's good because it showed our kids that getting up at 6 in the morning to prepare for the season has its rewards and paid off."
The girls' race was not as close, with Spartanburg's Evie Tate easily beating teammate Anna Todd for the individual title. She finished at 19:35.06. Todd came home at 19:47.46.
"Anna and I have been running one and two all year, with either of us winning most races," Tate said. "I took the lead in this one just after the mile mark and held on.
"I ran away from Anna, but she caught me. I wasn't surprised because she has a great kick. We push each other and it makes us better."
Spartanburg scored 35 points and won the team title. Lancaster was second at 63, Rock Hill third at 68, Northwestern fourth with 98, Gaffney fifth at 103 and Clover last with 123 points.
The first local finisher was Rock Hill's Alex Moseley, who ran a 20:09.55.
"I expected to do better," she said. "I felt bad all day; some kind of stomach thing. My goal was to break 20 (minutes) and I was close. But I feel like I'm peaking at the right time with the state meet coming up."
Freed said he was expecting a challenge from Flores and wasn't surprised with the finish. He met Flores at their teams' regular-season meet.
"He was a lot better than I thought, and I had taken him lightly," Freed said. "I beat him then, but he challenged me. Beat him by a few steps and saw he was good."